State of D’Nile Cruise finale with bonus feature…the pyramids!

2 Dec

So after a night of laughing at elderly Europeans in dresses, we woke in the morning with a very busy schedule ahead of us. We were in Luxor, the ancient city of Thebes and home to many of the most famous sites in pharaonic history. We would be flying back to Cairo at 5, so we knew we had a lot to accomplish. We packed our bags and bid farewell to our giant crocodile. We loaded up on granola bars and water bottles and jumped onto a small motorboat to cross to the West Bank of the Nile. From there we headed for the Valley of the Kings.

The area around the Nile is very lush and green, filled with farmer’s fields and more donkeys than I would have ever imagined in Egypt. The greenery soon gives way to desert hills though and in these lay the tombs of the pharaohs. We went through a small visitors center and then into the the Valley, which is riddled with excavated tombs. They were amazingly preserved, with rich colors and endless heiroglyphs covering the walls and ceilings. Each tomb started with a narrow opening and long decorated hallways that led to various chambers and finally the tomb. Most tombs were empty as they had previously been raided by robbers and the British. The artwork was still there, so vibrant that you could hardly believe it had survived for so long. In one tomb there was a huge stone box in the center that was about six feet tall. Walking around it it just looked like a monument, but when you stood on a step you could see the carving of the pharoah laying on top and realized it was his tomb.

I had read before coming that just weeks before, King Tut’s actual mummy had finally been put on display for the first time. There was quite a line to get into the Tomb, but of course Ahmed took us straight to the front. This time though, some British tourists who clearly had not learned Egyptian ways yet, started to grumble and then yell at Ahmed. Our group was forced to assimilate into the line, albeit about 20 places ahead of where we were supposed to be. Ahmed took me up to the front though, enjoying the pregnant lady excuse and got me right through in front of the disgruntled English. I would have rather stayed in line though, as these charming folks made nasty remarks to me on the climb down to the tomb. I ignored them though because once I made it to the bottom, I saw on one side the mummy of King Tut and on the other, the massive golden sarcophagus that I’ve seen a million times in pictures and books with its dazzling bright blue paint and long beard. It was amazing! The mummy itself was quite small, its skin black and shriveled against the bones. There was a sheet covering his chest because when robbers first made it to the tomb, apparently they sliced him open to remove the jewels that had been stuffed inside. Unfortunately we weren’t able to take pictures in any of these tombs.

The Valley held quite a few tombs and I could only imagine how many more might be hidden in the rocks. It was time to move on though so we headed for the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Before coming to Egypt I had watched a PBS special where they were testing different mummies to find hers and determine how she died. It was fascinating so I was excited to see this next site.

The line was pretty long there but moved quickly. In true Ahmed style, he took me straight to the front of the line and got me right through, telling the ticket taker that I needed to sit down at the benches conveniently located on the other side of the security checkpoint. We all headed up to the huge temple carved into the face of a mountain. It was an imposing location, this lady knew how to do it.

We examined the hieroglyphs and Ahmed told us about the history and meanings of the stories on the walls. There were quite a few schoolgroups there and at one point while we were gathered listening to Ahmed, several little Egyptian boys took turns sneaking up behind the five girls in our group and having a friend take a picture, as if he was with us. Nice.

We were wilting a little bit, as it was warmer in Luxor and we’d been going nonstop for several hours. Ahmed, who was from Luxor, took us downtown to a local pizza place that was really good and had great fresh juice. This recharged us pretty well and we were ready to head to our final two destinations, the Temple of Karnak and the Luxor Temple.

Karnak was overwhelming! It was huge and beautiful, especially when one imagined that it had been originally covered in bright paint and gold. It must have been such a site. Walking into it, we remarked that it felt like in Lord of the Rings when they sail between those two massive carvings on the sides of the river. Just utterly huge. The Temple had been added to many times and its oldest parts were 4000 years old. Wow. There were massive stone pillars and traces of the bright blues and yellows on the walls inside. There were several intricately carved obelisks that were neat to see after learning about how they were made in Aswan and especially after standing in a certain place and realizing that the tips were lined up to mark certain stars in the sky and keep track of astrological charts. There was a sign pillar that was called the Wishmaker and if one circumambulated a certain number of times, it would give them either wealth, success , or a marriage. We made a few rounds just in case, running into an Indian family who was going the wrong way.

From here we went to the Luxor Temple, another massive ancient structure but one where we were exhausted and ready to go. We oohed and ahhed at the statues though and the famous avenue of sphinxes that led to it, originally it was lined with two thousand sphinx statues that led from Karnak to Luxor. We could see where the site had been excavated and how deep it had been buried because a mosque had been built on top of a part of it while it was still buried. After excavation, the mosque was about forty feet above our heads, with a doorway suspended in midair. Probably the highlight of this temple was the hieroglyph of a man, um, exposing himself. It had to do with fertility apparently. The best part though was that the, er, best part, was rubbed black from all the people who had touched it. We had a few immature giggles at that one.

After leaving the temple, we got a few quick pictures and ran to a local souk across the street to get some of the famous local dried hibiscus for use in karakday, a delicious Egyptian drink. In Mexico I think it’s jamaica. Then we headed back to the ship, said farewell to our dear Ahmed, and headed to the airport to fly back to our own dirty congested part of the Nile.

Upon returning back to Cairo, we called our families to assure them that we had not been kidnapped by Bedouin and were in fact safe. We woke the next morning, still energized from our trip. So we called Adel, one of our usual taxi drivers, and headed out to the pyramids, or as Adel calls them, the pyramidees. Driving out to them, its amazing how close the city of Giza comes to them, almost right up to their bases. Adel got us tickets and drove us first to a place ont eh plateau where you could get a good panoramic shot of all three pyramids, including, on a good day, the pyramids at Sakaara, south of Cairo. We took the requisite shots, then Adel took us down to the bases so we could wander around. It wasn’t crowded at all and the day was pleasant and cool. Everyone complains about the endless hawkers who try and take pictures for you or sell you a camel ride and can’t take no for an answer. Luckily there were only a few of those and they were pretty easily dissuaded with a sharp “la’a” or us telling them we lived in Maadi and weren’t tourists. We climbed a few steps up and took some pictures and walked around, marveling at how huge they were and how they could possibly have been built. There are many famous places I’ve been lucky enough to see that I’ve stared at and thought “is that it? That’s not that big, really.” The pyramidees are not one of those places. They are huge, huge works of architecture. The sphinx on the other hand, surprised me with how unimposing it was. But cool nonetheless. After a few hours of being impressed, we hopped in the cab and headed back, thoroughly exhausted and ready to crash from covering 6000 years in four days.

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2 Responses to “State of D’Nile Cruise finale with bonus feature…the pyramids!”

  1. yvette December 4, 2007 at 2:23 am #

    I was just about to write you and tell you that I thought the hibiscus drink you were enjoying was something I could relate to, jamica. I think about you two everytime there is something on TV about Egypt. Can’t wait for the pictures and use your pregnancy to the most. You won’t have an excuse in a month or so.

  2. mom December 4, 2007 at 3:33 pm #

    Jicama tea. Grandma Bertha swears by it.

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